How to navigate a complicated world, one near-miss at a time.
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Q: I’m planning a trip to Barcelona in the summer. This will be my third time there, but my first leisure trip. Any recommendations on where to stay and where to eat?
A: For this one, I’m turning the reins over to R&K co-founder Matt Goulding, who’s been living in Barcelona these last seven years with his Catalan wife (and even wrote a—dare I say, THE—book on eating and traveling through Spain). Matt, take it away:
I’m a big fan of El Born—specifically the northern edge of the neighborhood closer to Parc de la Ciutadella (not coincidentally, R&K’s Barcelona office is nearby). You’ll technically still be in the Ciutat Vella (the Old City), but comfortably away from the madness of the Gothic Quarter in the dead heat of summer. More importantly, you’ll be in one of the better neighborhoods for eating and drinking in Barcelona. Here’s my perfect day of Born-based eating: Breakfast should be cafe con leche and a ham and cheese croissant from Hoffman Bakery—one of the finest purveyors of pastry in the city. For lunch, head to Agullers, a classic Catalan spot frequented by local office workers; order a few small plates, plus grilled meat or fish. (Alternatively, go across the street to Vilaviniteca and buy jamón ibérico de bellota—the finest ham on the planet—and a few cheeses and bread for a picnic). For dinner, start with a few tapas and some cider at El Chigre, a new Austurian joint next to Santa Maria del Mar, and finish with some of Spain’s best seafood at Estimar. Post-prandial cocktail options are aplenty: Paradiso, a “clandestino” found inside a pastrami shop, is where the cool kids go these days, but I’m not that cool anymore, so I hit Dux Gin & Cocktail for a slightly more mellow nightcap.
Q: I’m a frequent business traveler and often find myself in a new place for just a few days. While I speak a couple of languages, I’m often at a loss when I hit the ground. Any tips on quickly learning at least a couple of basic phrases in the local language?
A: It is amazing how much goodwill saying “I’m sorry” and “thank you” in a language someone can actually understand will buy you. While taking a train through rural Hungary, I once had a three-hour conversation (and copious shots of palinka) with an old Hungarian man based on my knowledge of 20 Hungarian words, a notebook for drawing pictures, and a cell phone call to his daughter, who spoke some English. (His daughter still emails me years later to give me updates on her dad. Hi, Gabor!)
What I mean to say is, yes! I have thoughts on this. One of my favorite quick fixes is called Earworms, which pairs catchy background music with useful phrases. I’m going to warn you, though: I am NOT kidding when I say that this music is not good, but it is SERIOUSLY catchy. I find myself walking down the street humming, “Um café …com leite…” to what sounds like a discarded background track from a 1993-era Sade deep-cut. So there’s that. I’ve also used, and have friends who swear by, the great app Bravolol, which smartly organizes key phrases and provides a slowed-down audio option for additional clarity.
Q: My boyfriend is significantly taller than me—he’s 6’7”, to be precise. While this makes him great for reaching the top cupboards, it’s a pain when we travel. He especially hates to fly, as the legroom, which isn’t great for me, is actually painful for him. However, I love to travel and resent feeling grounded by his height. Is there any way to fix this, or are we doomed?
A: While flying is horrible for pretty much everyone, for the very tall it can be downright tortuous, even dangerous, as those over 6’3” are more at risk of forming blood clots while flying. In short, you’re doomed, thanks for playing.
I kid! The first thing to do is research which airlines have the most standard legroom. For example, American Airlines recently announced they were reducing the size of their economy class seats, so avoid those cheap bastards. On the other hand, JetBlue is known to have slightly more generous seating. There are lots of sites—such as Seat Guru and The Points Guy—that can help you shop around.
However, even that might not always be enough, especially for international travel. At that point, I’d advise sharing the cost of upgrading his seat to an extra legroom option, which is called everything from premium economy to the idiotic “stretch” by various airlines. For a really long-haul flight, you may even want to move to business class, which offers vastly more legroom (and a much, much—like, insanely—higher price tag).
Unless you are a person of some means, I realize this will probably mean traveling less. (And it will probably always feel a little annoying to pass him in business as you make your way back to steerage.) But in the long-term, it’s worth asking yourself if this is a limitation you’re willing to accept. If you’re going to continue resent flying to far-flung locales, no reason to hold out for now; this person didn’t ask to be born tall, probably also isn’t too jazzed about his difficulties traveling, and doesn’t deserve your ire. And remember, your vacation is his vacation, too: don’t ask someone to suffer during their leisure time for your enjoyment. (Unless the suffering is, say, attending a ghost tour when you really hate ghost tours but your significant other loves ghost tours. Go on the ghost tour.) However, think of the benefits this person brings to your life. Is he kind, funny, and able to save you tens of dollars in step ladders over the years? If so, perhaps a few more train voyages aren’t the worst thing. If not, may I suggest a solo trip to Bangkok? It’s lovely this time of year.